Enrique Peña Nieto, the frontrunner in Mexico’s presidential election, has increased his already substantial lead, conjuring the possibility that he might win the July vote with a majority, according to an opinion poll on Monday.
With official campaigning kicking off this week, Mr Peña Nieto of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI) has 50.5 per cent of the vote, a gain of 2.1 percentage points compared with his standing in February.
The poll, conducted by Mexico City-based Buendía and Laredo, and published in El Universal newspaper, places Josefina Vázquez Mota of the conservative ruling National Action party (PAN) in second place with 28.1 per cent – a drop of 3.5 points since last month.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s leftwing candidate and a runner-up in the last presidential election, is on 20.1 per cent.
The latest result strengthens the likelihood that Mr Peña Nieto’s PRI will return to the presidency this year for the first time since losing its grip on power in 2000. Until then, the centre-left party ruled Mexico for 71 uninterrupted years.
The party’s resurgence is all the more remarkable, given its historical association in the minds of many Mexicans with corruption and vote rigging.
When the then-vertically structured party was voted out of the presidential palace, and the country moved to a more open and transparent democratic model, many political analysts thought that it would wither and die.
But in the past few years the PRI has won back supporters, as well as gaining new ones among Mexico’s predominantly young population, with the simple message that it knows how to get things done.
Mr Peña Nieto has only enhanced that image. As governor of the state of Mexico, the country’s most populous, he gained experience and forged a reputation for efficiency, in particular with his emphasis on infrastructure projects.
According to Monday’s poll, 70 per cent of those asked believe that he has political experience. By contrast, only 42 per cent said the same of Ms Vazquez Mota – in spite of her track record as campaign co-ordinator during the last presidential election, and of having held two cabinet posts in the last six years.
At the same time, the ruling PAN party has suffered voter fatigue after holding office for more than a decade. While the party has consolidated the country’s public finances, many Mexicans express frustration with the relatively low economic growth over the past decade.
They have also grown weary of rising levels of drugs-related violence since the current administration made fighting organised crime via a military-led offensive a priority. Since 2006, when the centre-right President Felipe Calderón took office, more than 50,000 people have died in the fighting.
Another opinion poll this month, by Mexico City-base Mitofsky, showed that eight out of 10 people asked believed that the security situation is worse today than a year ago. The same poll showed that 53 per cent of those asked believed that organised crime was winning the war.
Mexicans will go to the polls on July 1. The winner is set to take office December 1.
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